In Defense of Rick Perry

(This guest blog entry is a response to Paul Peterson’s blog entry, “Is Rick Perry Abandoning School Accountability and Merit Pay?“)

First, a confession. I’m a big admirer of Paul Peterson. I share the values and concerns he reflects in his post.

As most readers of this blog know, I have been deeply involved in Texas reforms since they began to be implemented systematically in the early 90s. I have a strong and passionate commitment to keeping accountability, broadly defined, in place in our state.

I believe Governor Perry is strongly committed to maintaining accountability in Texas, so I wanted to respond to a few of Paul’s characterizations.

As to merit pay, which I have been deeply involved in supporting and helping to create in Texas, Governor Perry has been a strong and steadfast supporter. I recall his role in the early days in using some discretionary dollars to model pay for performance and then his leadership in seeking support from the legislature for our program, which became the largest in the country.

In this last session, Governor Perry did insist that we deal with our fiscal problems without tax increases. That meant some budget cuts, and the legislature did cut deeply (too deeply, in my view) into state education initiatives. This was unfortunate, but not Governor Perry’s doing, nor within his power to prevent.

I could spend more time than I have here to talk about the uphill politics behind creating and sustaining merit pay. But the main point I want to make is that Perry is a supporter, and that our loss was in no way due to his “giving in to special interests.”

As to the district waiver program, this initiative came out of the legislature, not from the Governor’s office. So it’s not at all like Secretary Duncan’s waiver program, which the Executive is doing on its own, without legislative authority. Further, while I worry a lot about the Administration’s watering down accountability across the country, I am convinced the Texas program will entail added accountability while under Robert Scott’s administration. That is to say, I believe he’ll look for additional and more rigorous measures for higher-end performance while maintaining student-specific, objective measures for students across the board.

This is not to say that I like the bill the legislature passed. I worry about its expansion and, mostly, its administration in a post-Perry period for precisely the same reasons Paul raises.

Finally, as to accountability generally, Governor Perry has been a stalwart supporter and defender of our accountability initiatives. Our state adopted a basic re-write of our accountability policies under HB 3 two years ago. It’s a fine model for states and has been widely designated as such by many groups around the country, including Achieve and the SREB. Make no mistake about it, it would never have been as strong as it was when passed, nor would it have survived this last session without being watered down, but for the looming veto pen of Governor Perry.

I know Paul has decided to support Romney and I respect his decision, but the record should be clear: Governor Perry has been a strong leader on education and a fervent supporter of accountability and other policies designed to improve student academic results.

– Sandy Kress

Sandy Kress served as senior advisor to President George W. Bush on education with respect to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

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